Title: Blade and Mounting for a Short Sword (Wakizashi). Date: blade, 16th century; mounting 19th century. Geography: Gifu. Culture: Japanese. Medium: Steel, wood, brass, lacquer, copper-gold alloy (shakudō), ray skin (samé), silk, silver, baleen. Dimensions: L. 30 1/4 in. (76.9 cm); L. of blade 27 3/16 in. (69.1 cm); L. of cutting edge 21 11/16 in. (55.1 cm); D. of curvature 3/4 in. (1.9 cm). Classification: Swords. Credit Line: Gift of Brayton Ives and W. T. Walters, 1891. Accession Number: 91.2.52
Exhibition location: The Met Fifth Avenue, Floor 1, Gallery 380 (Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gallery)
During the Edo period in Japan, the ruling class—the Samurai—had limited ways in which to express personal taste in public. Swords were an indispensable symbol of their power and authority, and sword fittings became an important means of self-expression and focal point of artistic creation. Opened March 21, 2022, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition Samurai Splendor: Sword Fittings from Edo Japan present some two dozen luxury mountings, fittings, and related objects—including two sketchbooks—all of which come from the Museum’s collection. Included will be works that have seldom and, in some cases, never been displayed. Sword fittings represent an aspect of sword fashion that is rarely featured outside of Japan.
The exhibition is made possible by the Vilcek Foundation.
After almost a century and a half of near-constant civil war and political upheaval, Japan unified at the beginning of the 17th century under a new feudal ruler, the Tokugawa family. Their rule—the Edo period—lasted for more than 250 years, until 1868. The Tokugawa brought economic growth, prolonged peace, and widespread enjoyment of the arts and culture. Their rule also imposed strict class separation and rigid regulations for all. Sword mountings and fittings from the Edo period attained a degree of sophistication and richness in new designs that distinguishes them from those of earlier periods.
Although samurai swords are famous for their sharp and beautiful blades—as well as the complicated process required for their manufacture—their intricate mountings and fittings are less known in the West. Materials used include gold, silver, copper, gold-copper alloy, silver-copper alloy, brass, steel, lacquer, wood, ray skin, and baleen. The exhibition will focus on the elegance, decorative variety, and technical sophistication of these components, and will provide new insights based on original research. The Met’s collection of Japanese arms and armor is one of the foremost of its kind in the world.
The exhibition was organized by Markus Sesko, Associate Curator of Asian Arms and Armor, Department of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.